Heart scan detects severe blockage in healthy nonsmoker

March 03, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

For years, Raymond Nowicki ignored his wife’s requests to find a doctor and set up an appointment for a physical exam.

After three or four years, Betsy gave her husband a choice. He could find a doctor and make his own appointment, or she was going to call her doctor and make one for him. She wound up doing the latter.

After a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nowicki finally got in for his physical. He wasn’t expecting much to come out of the appointment. The 46-year-old father of two exercised regularly, never smoked and followed a healthy diet.

But when Dr. Tomas Jakstys, family medicine doctor from Edward-Elmhurst Health, started asking Nowicki about his family history, he realized something. His mom was about the same age as him when she underwent a procedure due to some blockages in her arteries.

Based on Nowicki’s medical history, Dr. Jakstys recommended he have a heart scan.

A heart scan takes just a few minutes and measures the amount of plaque build-up in the coronary arteries, the most common cause of heart disease. The test is recommended for women over the age of 45 and men over the age of 40 who have one or more heart disease risk factors, such as a family history of heart disease.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, the heart scan also includes screenings with checks of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Patients also meet with a nurse immediately after the scan for a consultation, to review a preliminary report with scan results and to discuss ways to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Nowicki set up his appointment for the heart scan in October 2020. He took the day off and he and his wife had planned to do some house painting after the scan. The scan, Nowicki says, was probably “the easiest and fastest medical test” he’s ever had.

When he sat down with the nurse to go over the preliminary results, he learned his score on the scan was 5,764. A score above 400 is considered high risk for moderate coronary artery disease. A score above 1,000 is considered high risk for moderate to severe coronary artery disease.

That heart scan likely saved his life.

After the heart scan, Nowicki was scheduled for an angiogram with the hopes of addressing any blockage with stents. But the angiogram showed severe blockage and Nowicki underwent triple bypass surgery in December 2020.

“I’m really fortunate,” says Nowicki, who began cardiac rehab in February 2021. “I’m looking forward to [a] full recovery.”

Both Nowicki and his surgeon, Dr. Bryan Foy, are proponents of the heart scan. Following his surgery, Nowicki encouraged his four siblings to get the scan. One already got his results back and has a follow-up appointment with his doctor to discuss next steps, says Nowicki.

Dr. Foy says he’s seen the benefits of heart scans time and time again. And though there are screenings for other common diseases such as breast cancer or colon cancer, a heart scan is often ignored as a screening tool, largely because many insurance companies don’t cover the cost.

But for the cost of a night out, a heart scan can provide a good indicator of your heart health risk.

“The first symptom of heart disease often is death,” says Dr. Foy, adding that a heart scan can help detect heart disease before a heart attack hits.

Nowicki says he plans to continue with cardiac rehab and may finally get around to doing that house painting he planned that day in October. He also plans to be more diligent about regular physical exams and encourages others to do the same.

“It’s always good to get regular checkups and discuss options, and certainly family history, with your doctor,” he says.

A heart scan is simple, painless, potentially lifesaving and takes just 15 minutes. Schedule a heart scan.

Your heart is in good hands when you choose us for cardiovascular care. Learn more about our high-quality heart care.

Know your risk for heart disease. Take a free, 5-minute test that could save your life.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, your safety and well-being are our top priorities. Learn more about our Safety Commitment.

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